Call Redialed: NEW Ute Lemper Interview: "Rendezvous with Marlene" at Feinstein's/54 Below
I have always been fascinated with Marlene Dietrich, which is why I am so excited to catch up with Ute Lemper as she readies for the Feinstein’s/54 Below premiere her show Rendezvous with Marlene later this month.
In this unforgettable show, based upon Ute Lemper’s three hour phone call and exchange with Marlene Dietrich in 1988 in Paris, 30 years ago, Rendezvous with Marlene tells us Marlene’s story, along with singing her fabulous songs from all the chapters of her life, from the Berlin cabaret years to her fabulous Burt Bacharach collaborations. From “Just a Gigolo” to “Blowin’ In The Wind,” every musical moment is not to be missed.
Rendevous with Marlene will play Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street) on November 28 & 29 at 9:30pm. Click here for tickets!
1. This month you are returning to Feinstein's/54 Below with your new show Rendezvous with Marlene. What are you looking forward to about this show? RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE means a lot to me. It is my personal homage to that great Lady. It is the story I chose to tell about her and the story I want people to hear. There are many portraits of Marlene out there, this one is coming from my heart. She is telling her life through my filter and singing her songs with my voice.
2. This show is based upon your three-hour phone call between you & Marlene back in 1988. When did you decide you wanted to turn this conversation into a show? How did you recall everything you talked about? Did you record the phone conversation 30 years ago? No, I did not record that phone call on any recording device, just in my heart and consciousness. There it slept and stayed dormant for a long time. I always appreciated the comparisons, it was rather an honor to be called Marlene Dietrich.
At the same time I knew that artistically I was nothing like her. Plus I was so young, wild and untamable in my own way. I grew up with the music of the 70s, with Pink Floyd and the Beatles...I always had an edge and did not conform. Well, this last part sounds very much like Dietrich, right ? Yes, I was also German with a rather complicated history and relationship with my country. I was also an expatriate that would never sing the German National Hymne. I had a great anger and horror about the history of Nazi Germany and of course the Holocaust. Being married to a New York Jew, also in my second marriage, I have much to separate myself in my heart and soul from my home country. It hurts to have feelings like this...like I don’t belong where I am born....or I cannot belong there...She felt similar.
There are many dimensions by now 30 years or more later than I can relate to her destiny. Last year I was asked to play Dietrich in three different stage productions, a play in Paris that shows her love affair to Jean Gabin, a stage show that explores her love affair to Piaf and another smaller British movie. I thought all the scripts were stereotypical and not researched enough. I gave everyone my input and sold my ideas and knowledge for free...ha...then I thought, why don’t I write my own play and base it on the one unique personal encounter with her.
That’s the story. Between memories, really inside treasures and a bunch of research and of course some imagination I wrote this play and included Marlene's most gorgeous songs. It is not an imitation of her, but my reflection of her, my projection.
I visited Billy Wilder in 1988 in Hollywood with my friend Volker Schloendorff. Billy had known Marlene very well and gave me some personal insides that also contributed to RENDEZVOUS WITH MARLENE.
3. What part of your conversation did you know right away had to be in the show? What part of the conversation didn't make it into the show? Oh, the Rainer Maria Rilke quotes are memorable and meaningful. The tales about Germany, having lost her home land... her sad words about her broken relationship with her daughter. What I remember, made it into the show....of course there is lots of additional storytelling to explore her journey.
4. What did you learn about Marlene or yourself in creating this show that you didn't know 30 years ago? I internalized her story and identified with it. I never wanted to really embrace that identification. Now I am ready...I am much older, I have enough distance to everything...in this world...career, society, culture, love, children, pressure, beauty, aging...and yet enough proximity to her dignity, class, game, sexuality, pain and sorrow, solitude and hedonism. It is great fun to crawl into her story.
5. As you were talking to Marlene Dietrich in 1988, do you remember what was going through your head as you were talking to this living legend? I could not believe it. I always said, I wish I would have been older when we had the conversation. Marlene asked on the phone how old I was and she was disappointed when I told her I was 24. She wanted an equal...a girlfriend, but I was not there yet. Now, I try to be a good friend of hers telling her story.
6. How did Marlene Dietrich influence you? I am not sure whether it was the influence of Marlene or rather just my personal aesthetics that often made me look like her on photos and in my styling. I just liked a classy, seductive, powerful and mysterious Aura. I was always drawn to the Art Nouveau, the Film Noir and the Shadows that determine the light. Her style was classy but also corny and super artificial to me. Her unique choices were very inspiring. She was morally and politically courageous and outspoken.
She represented an emancipated woman, a free spirit, sexual, yet masculine and androgynous, powerful, ladylike and bossy at the same time, she exercised an open marriage and was crazy polygamous (haha, fantastic).
Marlene chose to join the US Army and entertain the Soldiers during World War 2, to keep up their morals at the front lines. Yes, she loved the thousands of men/soldiers around herself, but she also risked her life. She admitted that she was scared of capture.
7. For your performance in Cabaret in Paris, you received the French Moliére Award and garnered a lot of comparison to Marlene Dietrich. At that time, what was it like to be compared to Marlene Dietrich? What made you send her an apology letter for the comparison? How did she respond to the letter? I felt that this incredible Legend, who had been a Weimar Kabarett Star, a most glamorous Hollywood Diva, an Ambassador to peace deserved better than the comparison to a 24 year old young actress. And just because I was German and started a career abroad...I fell into this category Dietrich or Romy Schneider. I wanted to express my admiration and thanked her for myself and generations of women she had empowered.
8. In 1992, Marlene Dietrich passed away, six days before the opening night of the Berlin production of Blue Angel, in which you played "Lola," the role that made Marlene Dietrich a star in 1928. How did her passing affect you & influence the way you played the role after her passing? Her death did not affect my interpretation of the role of “LOLA.” I did not play Dietrich, but “LOLA.” I had chosen deliberately not to play it with a blond wig and high penciled eyebrows, but rather red haired, punk and confrontational.
Many things happened to her legacy and to mine too after her death throughout those years after the fall of the Wall, the new united Germany etc. Marlene's story is a complicated one and it hurts...it’s a painful story and an embarrassing story for Germany honestly. It took Germany a hundred years to finally embrace her. How deeply rooted is nationalism and extreme righteous and rightwing hatred????
You will hear incredible parts of her story, you probably do not even know in this country....it is shocking. But I lived through enough times of provincial populism that brings out the worst in human beings to also talk about that part of Marlene's story....... but there is much more than that to this Lady...come check it out!
9. If Marlene were alive today, what do you think your relationship with her would be like? What song would you like to record with her? I would go and visit and have a bottle or five of Moet Chandon with her...and laugh out loud about the world and simply have a good time. We would be "the laziest gals in town!!!”
10. I have a component to my interviews called "I Can See Clearly" now where I try to clear-up misconceptions about my interviewees. But for this interview, I'd like to ask, what do you think was the biggest misconception about Marlene Dietrich that you would like to clear up right now? Due to the fact that mainly her photographs survive the wheel of time....she was not this stereotype image....she manipulated her shots to perfection and capture that still life…and behind that image was a free bird, passionate, provocative, courageous and completely non conform. Also being a great cook and housecleaner, she loved a dirty joke, a stiff drink and good smoke.
More on Ute:
Ute Lemper’s career is vast and varied. She has made her mark on the stage, in films, in concert and as a unique recording artist on more than 30 CDs over 30 years of career. She has been universally praised for her interpretations of Berlin Cabaret Songs, the works of Kurt Weill and Berthold Brecht and the Chansons of Marlene Dietrich, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré, Jacques Prevert, Nino Rota, Astor Piazzolla many others and also her own compositions, as well as her portrayals in musicals and plays on Broadway, in Paris, Berlin and in London’s West End.
In 2015, Ute completed her compositions The 9 Secrets to the words of Paulo Coelho, based on his book Manuscript Found in Accra. This creation was released on CD in fall 2015 on the label EDEL in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and on the STEINWAY Label internationally in February 2016. She recorded the song cycle, The 9 Secrets, in New York with some of the finest musicians from around the world. Instruments used during recording include exotic ancient Arabic guitars, shepherd flutes, rebec and percussions. The one and only Gil Goldstein played accordion and wrote masterful string arrangements. Ute is thrilled and honored about this collaboration with Paulo Coelho, who is one of the most important legendary authors of our time.
ARTE TV recorded the world premiere of The 9 Secrets LIVE in Germany at the Ruhr Festspiele and presented a one hour portrait on MAESTRO in October, and broadcast the complete LIVE Concert on ARTE Internet worldwide.
At the same time, as we count 70 years after the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps, Ute conceived a concert as a commemoration of the Holocaust with Songs For Eternity, dedicated to the songs created in the ghettos and concentration camps between 1942 and 1944. Ute researched, together with Francesco Lotoro and Orly Beigel, an unbelievable collection of songs written in the darkest moments of imprisoned life, facing inhumane cruelties, torture and death.
Her previous creation Forever, an homage to the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda presents her self composed song cycle to his passionate Love Poems. This heartfelt musical masterpiece toured the world and sold many CDs worldwide.
In 2011 and 2012 Ute toured the world with Ultimo Tango, presenting a journey through the songs of Astor Piazzolla, the fabulous Argentinian composer of Tango Nuevo. Ute sings in the original Spanish, but also created adaptations of the songs in German, French and English. Stories of love, abandonment, decadence in Buenos Aires, Berlin, Paris and New York. The tour presented the original Astor Piazzolla Sextet from Buenos Aires.
In 2011, Ute also played to a packed house at the concert series with the Jazz at Lincoln Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis at Rose Hall in New York City, dedicated to the music of Kurt Weill.
She is also presenting, with Vince Mendoza as conductor and partly arranger, a new French Program called Paris Paris.
Very different is Ute’s other creation, The Bukowski Project, a rather avant-garde, adventurous collage in music and songs of the poetry of Charles Bukowski. This homage to the poet was invented and largely composed by Ute herself with a collaboration of her partner Todd Turkisher and her pianist Vana Gierig.
Ute was nominated for a GRAMMY for her CD Paris Days/Berlin Nights with the Vogler String Quartetand Stefan Malzew on Piano. It is a beautiful semi-classical recording, featuring songs between love and war composed by Hans Eisler, Kurt Weill, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and Astor Piazzolla, as well as Folksongs in Yiddish and in Russian. The group did an extensive North American Tour in March and April of 2012.
Ute was born in Munster, Germany and completed her studies at The Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna.
While Ute has continued to perform and revive the works of Brecht and Weill, her professional theatre stage debut in a musical was in the original Vienna production of Cats in the roles of Grizabella and Bombalurina. She went on to play Peter Pan in Peter Pan (Berlin) and Sally Bowles in Jerome Savary’s Cabaret (Paris) for which she received the Moliere Award for Best Actress in a Musical. She played Lola in The Blue Angel (Berlin) under the direction of Peter Zadek and Maurice Bejart created a ballet for her,La Mort Subite (Paris). Ute also appeared in many Weill Revues with the Pina Bausch Tanztheater, and she created the part of Velma Kelly in London’s production of Chicago in the West End, for which she was honored with the Laurence Olivier Award, and moved to the Broadway production after one year to receive the American Theatre Award.
Ute Lemper’s solo concerts, which include Kurt Weill / Berthold Brecht Recitals, Dietrich and Piaf / Jacques Brel / Leo Ferre / Kosma / Prevert / Sondheim evenings, and Berlin Cabaret Evening have been produced in prestigious venues throughout the world. Her symphony concerts include The Seven Deadly Sins, Songs from Kurt Weill, Songbook (Michael Nyman) and Songs from Weill, Piaf and Dietrich with the symphony orchestras of London, Israel, Boston, Hollywood, San Francisco, Berlin, The Paris Radio Symphony Orchestra, The Illusions Orchestra (Bruno Fontaine) and the Michael Nyman Band (Michael Nyman). She also appeared in Folksongs with the Luciano Berio Orchestra (Luciano Berio) and with The Matrix Ensemble (Robert Ziegler) performing Berlin Cabaret Songs. She performed with the best symphony orchestras all over the world from Buenos Aires to Sydney.
Her celebrated recordings for DECCA include Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill (Vols. I and II), Three Penny Opera, The Seven Deadly Sins, Mahogonny Songspiel, Prospero’s Books (Michael Nyman), Songbook(Michael Nyman/Paul Celan), Illusions (Piaf/Dietrich), City of Strangers (Prever/Sondheim) and Berlin Cabaret Songs (German and English versions). She was named Billboard Magazine’s Crossover Artist of the Year for 1993-1994. In early 2000, Decca / Universal Music released Punishing Kiss, featuring new songs composed for her by Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Philip Glass, and Nick Cave. Her following release on Decca But One Day, features new arrangements of Weill, Brel, Piazolla, Heymann and Eisler songs, as well as the first recordings of her own compositions, for which she wrote both lyrics and music. She also recorded Crimes of the Heart, Life is a Cabaret and Ute Lemper Live for CBS Records and for POLYDOR, Espace Indecent, Nuits Etranges and She Has a Heart.
She recorded a Live album and DVD, Blood and Feathers, at the Café Carlyle, one of New York’s hottest Cabaret stages. It was released worldwide on DRG/Koch Records and EDEL Records in Europe.
All That Jazz/The Best of Ute Lemper, which features highlights from her illustrious career to date was released in 1998. It accompanied her playing Velma Kelly in the London production of Kander and Ebb’s Chicago for which she received the 1998 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical. After nine months in London’s West End Ms. Lemper made her Broadway debut in September 1998. A major highlight of her eight months American engagement in Chicago was starring with Chita Rivera in the Las Vegas premiere in March 1999.
Her album Between Yesterday and Tomorrow is entirely self penned music and lyrics and Ute enjoyed coproducing all of her songs together with her partner in life and work Todd Turkisher.
In film, her many credits include L’Autrichienne (Pierre Granier-Deferre), Prospero’s Books (Peter Greenaway), Moscow Parade (Ivan Dikhovichni), Prêt-à-Porter (Robert Altman), Bogus (Norman Jewison) and the most recent releases, Combat de Fauves (Benoit Lamy), A River Made to Drown In (James Merendino) and Appetite (George Milton). She has appeared on television in Rage/Outrage, The Dreyfus Affair (Arte), Tales from the Crypt (HBO), Ute Lemper Sings Kurt Weill (Bravo), Illusions (Granada), Songbook (Volker Scholendorff), The Wall (Rogers Waters) and The Look of Love (Gillian Lynn).